Section 504

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a federal civil rights statute prohibiting discrimination based on disability in any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance. Section 504 guarantees the right to full participation and access to a free appropriate public education (FAPE). “No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States, as defined in section 706(8), shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance….” – 29 United States Code (U.S.C.) §794 As applied to schools, Section 504 broadly prohibits the denial of public education participation, or enjoyment of the benefits offered by public school programs because of a student’s disability. The law recognizes that equal treatment and services may not be sufficient to convey equal benefit. For nondiscrimination to occur, the school must provide services that level the playing field so that §504 eligible students have equal participation and opportunity for benefit. The United States Department of Education (USDE), Office for Civil Rights (OCR) provides compliance oversight for Section 504. (Public Law 93-112, amended as Public Law 93-516) Office of Civil Rights (OCR) expects schools to be on the “look out” for signs of possible disability and/or possible need for 504 services and to move forward with an evaluation when sufficient signs are preset, notwithstanding whether the student at issue has received MTSS interventions or the parent has requested an evaluation.

Discrimination Defined

 “No qualified person with a disability shall, on the basis of disability, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or otherwise be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity which receives federal financial assistance” (34 CFR §104.4(a)). Discrimination under Section 504 (34 CFR §104.4(b)) is essentially the same as under the FEEA and occurs when an institution engages in any of the following practices: “Denying a qualified person with a disability the opportunity to participate in or benefit from the aids, benefits, or services that are afforded students without disabilities.”

Which Students Are “Disabled”? A student is “disabled” under the Section 504 regulations if the student meets any one of the three “prongs” of eligibility listed in 34 CFR 104.3(j)(1). A disabled student: “(i) has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities, (ii) has a record of such an impairment, or (iii) is regarded as having such an impairment.” The prong under which the student is eligible will assist in determining which of the Section 504 protections are extended to the student. For example, although students eligible under any of the three prongs receive the nondiscrimination protections of Section 504, the requirements of FAPE are more limited.

Obligations of the Indian River School District to Comply with Section 504

1. Conduct appropriate child find and initial evaluations

2. Provide periodic reevaluations of students with disabilities

3. Provide eligible students with FAPE through the provision of a Section 504 plan to meet the individual educational needs of eligible students as adequately as the needs of nondisabled students are met

4. Provide education to students with disabilities in the least restrictive environment (LRE)

5. Provide established standards and procedures in the identification and evaluation process

6. Provide transportation under specific individual circumstances and conditions

7. Provide equal access to parents who have a disability

8. Provide students with disabilities equal access to nonacademic and/or extracurricular services

9. Establish and implement a system of procedural safeguards regarding the identification, evaluation, placement, or provision of FAPE to a student

10. Ensure behavior in question is not a manifestation of a student’s disability during disciplinary proceedings